Exceptional drought area worsens in Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Nearly 11 percent of Arkansas is experiencing exceptional drought conditions and the rest of the state shows scant improvement, despite a little rain last week, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Row crops are surviving thanks to irrigation, but cattle producers have been struggling with a hay shortage and a lack of green grass for their cows to eat. Many producers are selling all or part of their herds early.

Meteorologist John Robinson at the National Weather Service in North Little Rock said the most rain last week fell in southeast Arkansas. The drought category for part of the region eased slightly, but the state Forestry Commission is still advising residents that all of Arkansas is at high risk for wildfires.

Robinson noted that evaporation rates during extreme heat and low humidity can quickly wipe out the benefits of last week's rain, even though some places got enough to turn grass from brown to green, a welcome sight for cattle producers.

The weather service issued a heat advisory Thursday for most of Arkansas, and the state Health Department announced the state's first known heat-related death of the summer. The agency said privacy laws prevented it from disclosing details about the victim.

Last year, the state had 17 heat-related deaths.

Temperatures Thursday and Friday were forecast to top 100 degrees across the central part of the state. Next week is projected to bring somewhat cooler temperatures, with highs topping out in the mid- to high 90s. A few places in the northern half of the state got modest rainfall Thursday when some thunderstorms popped up in the afternoon.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map for Arkansas shows an area in southwest Arkansas stretching north and east to the state's northern and eastern borders as feeling the worst effects of the drought, with parts categorized as extreme or exceptional. Parts of northwest and south Arkansas are experiencing extreme drought.

Arkansas' corn crop has survived the dry weather, though it's unknown how strong the yield will be until the harvest progresses further.

Agriculture officials said strong prices for corn led to more corn being planted in Arkansas and nationally. The price has risen since the start of the growing season because of the drought.